The Libertarian Perspective | August 20, 2011 at 12:00 am

The Business of Education

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No matter how much the business of education may be apotheosized it is just that, a business.  Education, like any other business, cannot be so sacrosanct to be beyond reform.  Yet the grandiloquence surrounding the reform debate, might lead one to believe education is necessarily immune to criticism. To take education of its pedagogical pedestal, we must confront vociferous unions and bungling bureaucrats.  Why?  Because education, unlike any other business, subsidizes the supplier and not the consumer.

Subsidizing the supplier doesn’t work; it translates into top-down funding which is tremendously inefficient. Total spending has increased by 1400 percent since 1970 (adjusted for inflation), spending per student has more than doubled and the average class size has been cut by 70 percent. Yet SAT scores have actually dropped in both reading and math (the writing section wasn’t introduced until 2005).  Clearly the Department of Education subscribes to the logical fallacy, the appeal to money.   Ireland, for example, has roughly half our average expenditure per student, and still dramatically outranks the US in math, reading and science. American fourth graders have a far higher standing in international ranks than do high school sophomores. This is very telling; the international standing of American academic performance slips significantly as students progress through the education system. It is clear that the problem is not with the students but with the schools.

To give a light hearted anecdote of what happens when the government gets itself overinvolved in education; let us recall the Indiana Pi Bill, when a well-meaning legislator sought to pass a law rounding π down to the more manageable number 3.

To give a graver example, consider that more than a quarter of public high school seniors cannot read at a proficient level.

Neither politicians nor administrators have your best interests at heart. You have your best interests, or your child’s best interests, at heart.  What’s more, you know how best how to pursue them.  What good is a school investing thousands in the latest SmartBoard technology if the student is a kinesthetic learner?  Or perhaps you learn best in the afternoon, perhaps you want more art classes, perhaps you have a learning disability.

Recently, there has been a proliferation of educational possibilities to address these diverse needs.  Opportunities abound with online schools, montessori schools, home school, military academies and charter schools.  Innovation in education will cater to one student’s lack of discipline to another student’s excess of energy.

Bear in mind, however, that though these options may hit close to home, they may not be within reach.  Currently, the government subsidizes the supplier, not the consumer, so though the choice exists, the decision resides with a board of education.  In political jargon this is known as a local education agency.  In common vernacular this is known as a rip off.

The rhetoric surrounding education is largely to blame for its lack of reform.  In 1985 the Kansas City Federation of Teachers filed a brief with the Chief Judge urging the district to raise taxes to fund education, accusing Kansas City voters of “turn[ing] their backs on the children of their district.” Well the voters kowtowed to this verbal grandstanding and allocated two billion dollars to the school. One Olympic swimming pool and 120 private taxis later, the school’s academic performance had actually declined. The school failed district performance tests, 50 percent of the teachers were incompetent, and test scores remained dismal.  Rather than reforming the system, voters have been beguiled into throwing tax dollars into the educational vacuum.

Heaping cash into incompetent education departments is not just a supreme exercise in futility but an unaffordable luxury in today’s economy.

Both the lack of school accountability and the moral showboating stem from the same problem: the government subsidizes the producer, not the consumer.  Teachers do not answer to you but rather to administrators who have to answer to a superintendent who has to answer to the members of a board of education who, once every four years, must answer to you.  Why not just cut out some of the middlemen?

Photo Credit: http://mat.usc.edu

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